Annal: 1987 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction

Results of the National Book Critics Circle Award in the year 1987.

Book:The Counterlife

The Counterlife

Philip Roth

The Counterlife is about people enacting their dreams of renewal and escape, some of them going so far as to risk their lives to alter seemingly irreversible destinies. Wherever they may find themselves, the characters of The Counterlife are tempted unceasingly by the prospect of an alternative existence that can reverse their fate.

Illuminating these lives in transition and guiding us through the book’s evocative landscapes, familiar and foreign, is the miind of the novelist Nathan Zuckerman. His is the skeptical, enveloping intelligence that calculates the price that’s paid in the struggle to change personal fortune and reshape history, whether in a dentist’s office in suburban New Jersey, or in a tradition-bound English Village in Gloucestershire, or in a church in London’s West End, or in a tiny desert settlement in Israel’s occupied West Bank.

Book:The Age of Grief

The Age of Grief: A Novella and Stories

Jane Smiley

The luminous novella and stories in The Age of Grief explore the vicissitudes of love, friendship, and marriage with all the compassion and insight that have come to be expected from Jane Smiley, the Pulitzer Prize—winning author of A Thousand Acres.

In “The Pleasure of Her Company,” a lonely, single woman befriends the married couple next door, hoping to learn the secret of their happiness. In “Long Distance,” a man finds himself relieved of the obligation to continue an affair that is no longer compelling to him, only to be waylaid by the guilt he feels at his easy escape. And in the incandescently wise and moving title novella, a dentist, aware that his wife has fallen in love with someone else, must comfort her when she is spurned, while maintaining the secret of his own complicated sorrow.

Beautifully written, with a wry intelligence and a lively comic touch, The Age of Grief captures moments of great intimacy with grace, clarity, and indelible emotional power.

Book:Beloved (Toni Morrison)

Beloved

Toni Morrison

At the center of Toni Morrison’s fifth novel is an almost unspeakable act of horror and heroism: a woman brutally kills her infant daughter rather than allow her to be enslaved. The woman is Sethe, and the novel traces her journey from slavery to freedom during and immediately following the Civil War.

Woven into this circular, mesmerizing narrative are the horrible truths of Sethe’s past: the incredible cruelties she endured as a slave, and the hardships she suffered in her journey north to freedom. Just as Sethe finds the past too painful to remember, and the future just “a matter of keeping the past at bay,” her story is almost too painful to read. Yet Morrison manages to imbue the wreckage of her characters’ lives with compassion, humanity, and humor.

Part ghost story, part history lesson, part folk tale, Beloved finds beauty in the unbearable, and lets us all see the enduring promise of hope that lies in anyone’s future.

Book:The Bonfire of the Vanities

The Bonfire of the Vanities

Tom Wolfe

Tom Wolfe’s modern American satire tells the story of Sherman McCoy, a Wall Street “Master of the Universe” who has it all—a Park Avenue apartment, a job that brings wealth, power and prestige, a beautiful wife, an even more beautiful mistress.

Suddenly, one wrong turn makes it all go wrong, and Sherman spirals downward in a sudden fall from grace that sucks him into the ravenous heart of a New York City gone mad during the go-go, racially turbulent, socially hilarious 1980s.

Book:Crossing to Safety

Crossing to Safety

Wallace Stegner

Called a “magnificently crafted story…brimming with wisdom” by Howard Frank Mosher in The Washington Post Book World, Crossing to Safety has, since its publication in 1987, established itself as one of the greatest and most cherished American novels of the twentieth century. Tracing the lives, loves, and aspirations of two couples who move between Vermont and Wisconsin, it is a work of quiet majesty, deep compassion, and powerful insight into the alchemy of friendship and marriage.

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